In light of recent studies showing one in four people aged 18-24 have contemplated suicide, and two in five college students suffer from depression, the LEAP Tampa Bay College Access Network launched a new website to connect area college students with mental health resources.
LEAP Tampa Bay is a network of over 50 community partners committed to improving lives through educational resources. In conjunction with its partners throughout the region, LEAP announced Feb. 9 the public launch of YourCollegeCares.org to ensure area students can quickly access the help they need and reduce the stigma toward college mental health issues.
Dominique Gardner, program manager for LEAP Tampa Bay’s College Access Network, said increasing mental health concerns in colleges led to LEAP creating the website. She said circumstances arising from nearly two years in a pandemic exacerbated mental health issues, particularly in students. Although LEAP’s higher education partners recognized the latest rise in mental health issues, they were alarmed that on-campus resources were still underutilized by students.
“We had mental health experts around the table with us and those that work directly with college students on what content is necessary,” said Gardner. “How can we make a one-stop-shop in the community where all the available resources are just a click or two away, and also to normalize that it’s OK to ask for help and people aren’t alone.”
YourCollegeCares directly partners with Hillsborough Community College, St. Petersburg College, the University of South Florida and Pasco-Hernando State College. The website puts students in touch with counselors and resources to help ensure academic success through difficult times.
For students who might feel uncomfortable seeking help from their schools, YourCollegeCares also provides outside resources throughout the surrounding communities. These include crisis intervention, mental health care and wraparound life resources for other concerns.
The website was made possible through a grant from health insurance agency Humana, which provided $50,000 in funding to Leap through the Community Foundation Tampa Bay’s Nonprofit Needs List.
“The pandemic has certainly taken a toll on the well-being of so many in our community,” said Dr. Albert Tzeel, Humana’s regional vice president of health services, in a press release. “And we want to help provide our local college students with the help they need to maximize their well-being, their college experience and their future potential,”
Gardner said LEAP’s higher education partners are advertising YourCollegeCares, and she hopes the community will also help spread the word for the resource. She would like to place flyers and stickers in places like coffee shops near campuses.
YourCollegeCares also provides mental wellness articles, and Gardner hopes fellow college students will assist with those offerings. She said in her experience with higher education, she has found that students will trust another student’s word more than anything else.
“I think being able to log on to this website and see quotes from students that have utilized these resources and found them helpful would go a long way to helping others know this is a safe space,” said Gardner.
Charlotte, who asked that her last name remain private, is one of those students who would like to spread the word to her peers that it is acceptable to ask for help with mental health issues.
Charlotte, 22, attends St. Petersburg College. As a freshman and sophomore, Charlotte found herself struggling to overcome anxiety and was later diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Her parents helped her receive the mental health resources she needed, and she worries that other students may not have such a close familial relationship or the financial means to obtain the same help.
Charlotte is now a vocal proponent of reaching out for support with mental health issues and believes YourCollegeCares can make a similar difference in the lives of fellow students.
“After getting medicine and getting therapy, it was like my life did a complete 180,” she said. “It wasn’t immediate, it wasn’t like I walked into a doctor’s office and walked out perfect – and it’s still not perfect today, but all of a sudden, I was acknowledging a part of myself that really needed help.”
Charlotte said that after receiving treatment, she gained confidence in herself, became a better communicator and generally took back control over her life. She said it is hard to envision where she would be without seeking help.
Charlotte believes that all college students could benefit from talking to a therapist at certain times, even those without clinical mental illnesses. Stress management, relaxation techniques and help finding balance in life are all things she thinks could make a difference in students’ lives.
“I’m really excited about this website,” she said. “Because first of all, it helps to destigmatize it, and second of all, it helps connect them immediately with resources.”
Charlotte said college often becomes a competition to see who can manage the largest workload. She also pointed out that people frequently minimize their problems, always believing someone’s situation is worse. She believes that contributes to the unwillingness of many students to communicate their struggles.
Taking the initial step towards anything is often the hardest, and Charlotte said YourCollegeCares is a first step for students to better their lives.
“It’s so easy to think that you’re a little depressed, but it’s no big deal,” she said. “Don’t minimize your problems – use the free resources that are out there and just be an advocate for yourself.”
For more information, visit the website here.